Devil in a Blue Dress, the 1995 film starring Denzel Washington as Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, is an underrated classic. Based on the novel of the same name by famed author Walter Mosley, the film, directed by Carl Franklin, is a crime thriller set in 1948 Los Angeles. Unemployed, Easy has fallen on hard times. In need of money, he agrees to find a missing woman, Daphne Monet, but ends up being caught in a heap of trouble as he attempts to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Read on for some secrets behind the making of Devil in a Blue Dress.
The role of Mouse Alexander was played by Don Cheadle, but another famous actor auditioned for the role: David Alan Grier.
Denzel Washington was interested in playing Easy Rawlins because he was a regular guy who was in over his head. That, in addition to the fact that 1940s South Los Angeles was uncharted territory in the film world, territory that Washington wanted to explore.
In preparation for the role of Easy Rawlins, director Carl Franklin had Denzel Washington read books by crime novelist Chester Himes, including Cotton Comes To Harlem and his autobiography, The Quality of Hurt.
Devil in a Blue Dress was made for $20 million but only took home $16 million at the box office. Washington had a theory on why the film performed poorly – O.J. Simpson. The film opened the weekend of the O.J. verdict, which in the actor’s opinion, deterred audiences from the film.
Washington originally wanted to adapt another Mosley book, White Butterfly, for the big screen, but director Carl Franklin was much more interested in Devil in a Blue Dress.
Universal first acquired the rights to Mosley’s novel and even hired the novelist to adapt his work into script form. But Mosley soon discovered that scriptwriting wasn’t quite up his alley.
One False Move
When Devil in a Blue Dress was stuck in development hell at Universal, director Jonathan Demme purchased the rights when the option ran out. He had every intention of directing the film, but then he heard about Franklin’s interest in directing as well. Franklin was fresh off of the heels of his successful noir film One False Move, which had a similar feel to Devil in a Blue Dress. So the two partnered and Franklin ended up not only directing the film, but penning the script as well.
As a co-producer, Washington helped finance Devil in a Blue Dress. It was his production company, Mundy Lane’s, first film.
Some famous and not so famous Los Angeles landmarks were featured in Devil in a Blue Dress, including Griffith Observatory, the Ambassador Hotel, Mayfield Senior School and Cafe Club Fais Do-Do.
In 1998, ABC planned on shooting a television pilot for what would become a Devil in a Blue Dress series, but that never came to fruition. Years later, in 2011, it was announced that NBC was developing a TV series titled Easy Rawlins. The network, however, eventually passed on the show.
Central Avenue was a hot spot in 1940s Los Angeles, but all of its landmarks were long gone when filming of Devil in a Blue Dress took place. So, Franklin and his team recreated Central Avenue along a stretch of Main Street in downtown Los Angeles. They even restored a Red Car trolley and filled the street with a bunch of extras dressed in period clothing.
Harold & Belle’s
While preparing for the film, Franklin met with a group of jazz musicians at Harold & Belle’s, a beloved Creole restaurant and L.A. landmark. He picked their brains about what the City of Angels was like in the 1940s, especially the nightlife.
Shades of L.A.
Franklin also utilized a photographic collection called Shades of L.A. to further shape his understanding of 1940s Los Angeles, and to inform the visual style of Devil in a Blue Dress.